How women are being left behind by AI – and putting their careers at risk

15 avr. 2024


How women are being left behind by AI – and putting their careers at risk
Nitzan Engelberg

Journaliste Modern Work

Since ChatGPT was launched in November 2022, there have been several studies to examine the impact of using artificial intelligence within the professional world. An alarming conclusion is emerging from these reports as the future doesn’t look so bright for one section of society: women.

With artificial intelligence software becoming more accessible, largely thanks to the popularity of ChatGPT, it looks like the use of AI is fast becoming a hard skill associated with men more than women. An October 2023 report from Charter, a media and insights company, which surveyed 1,173 US workers about the use of AI at work, shows that women (35%) are less likely to be using AI in their jobs than men (48%), and fewer women than men (46% vs 66%) are “excited about the prospect of using AI as part of their day-to-day work. A separate report from FlexJobs, conducted in May 2023, indicates that women are adopting AI at a much slower pace for both personal and professional use.

Inbar, a transcriber for TV programs in Israel, understands their reluctance. “As soon as I heard about the sudden increase in artificial intelligence, I was concerned,” she says. Unlike some of her colleagues, she is resisting the creep of artificial intelligence. “I find that AI makes our need as humans to think for ourselves redundant. AI makes people lazier,” she says.

She’s not alone in her reluctance to work with these new tools. Malaika Neri, a matchmaker and relationship expert, says: “The best way of working with clients is to get to know them and to do that, you need to talk to them to understand their real problems – something that’s impossible to do with a bot.”

No desire to learn how to use AI

In France, the situation seems similar. According to a study by IFOP, an international polling and market research firm, published last January, 29% of men have used AI software professionally compared to 16% of women. What’s more, this study highlights that 71% of women still hadn’t been trained in the professional use of AI tools and had no desire to be either – compared to 54% of men.

“There is clearly more concern among women than men regarding the use of artificial intelligence,” says Baptiste Dupont, a research analyst at IFOP. “In the collective mindset, tech jobs are often perceived as reserved for men, raising numerous concerns for women about joining such a sector and using these tools.” Broadly speaking, women tend to gravitate towards professions or jobs in which they are working with people, such as healthcare, far away from machines!

However, Dupont puts forward another reason for women’s lack of enthusiasm towards AI. “We know that ChatGPT can throw up bias in its responses, which are sexist in nature, or which include statements that are negative towards different minorities: people of color, women, non-binary people…,” he says. “It’s essential that these tools are designed with a regard for women, who are aware of and sensitive to this issue.” This is partly why Neri doesn’t use AI at work when helping women to find love. “These bots are probably created by young white men, but my clients are not men, and not necessarily young or white, so it would be counterintuitive to use a bot for them,” she says.

The AI threat to roles traditionally performed by women

While many women have shown skepticism around the use of AI, they may have good reason. Other studies have suggested that women face a higher risk of being replaced by generative AI in their work. In the US, eight out of 10 women, compared to six out of 10 men, are in roles that may be replaced by artificial intelligence, even though there are more men in the job market, according to studies conducted by the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and Goldman Sachs.

The women we interviewed are aware of this problem but believe certain features of their work, such as human sensibilities, can never be replaced. “I know my clients really well,” says Neri. “I know their concerns. A robot can’t understand your deepest emotions and worries. It can only enhance what humans already do.”

Emma, who works for a large cloud services company, was required to undergo training in AI by her employer. However, she still doesn’t feel the need to use this tool. “At first, most people at my company were scared of being replaced by AI,” she says. “I knew it wouldn’t replace our work. It’s far too stupid for that. I found the training to be a waste of time.” Worse still, she adds, is that when she has tried to use AI, it has generated countless errors, which she has had to correct.

Although AI tools are not set to replace humans any time soon, it’s important to learn to use them so as to better supervise them with our human expertise, according to Emily Goligoski, the head of research at Charter, and Jacob Clemente, a journalist at Charter. That’s because skills associated with AI are increasingly in demand. For instance, a LinkedIn report from last November indicates that conversations about AI on the professional network saw a 70% global increase between December 2022 and September 2023 (and that primarily men are leading these conversations: 58% by men compared to 31% by women). What’s more, the report details an increase in the number of job postings requiring expertise in AI as well as an increase in specific positions working with it – such as Head of AI.

Mark McNeilly, professor of the practice of marketing at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, says: “You won’t be replaced by AI. You’ll be replaced by someone who has mastered AI.” He believes that AI skills will soon be indispensable in the professional world. “Personally, I created a course in AI for my students because I felt that there was a need for them to learn,” says McNeilly. “We, as teachers, can equip them to use it ethically but effectively.”

How women can get back in the AI game

But what will the future look like if women continue to shy away from learning to use these AI tools? Will they be able to access these new professions? “The issue of female inclusion is undoubtedly going to worsen in the coming years, given the gap that is growing in the use of AI between men and women, as well as the required skills which are continuing to widen,” says Dupont at IFOP. “The leading jobs in the AI market today are dominated by men. If we don’t let women learn and be part of this sector, there will probably be fewer opportunities for them, notably in terms of salaries and employment.”

For McNeilly, the solution is simple. “I think offering training to increase enthusiasm by women for using these tools is key. They can then try them out, experiment with them and see that it’s not so scary,” he says. Clement at Charter shares this view: “I think training is one of the best ways employers can help their workers succeed. Through experience and training, individuals will be able to recognize when these tools are useful and beneficial.”

Though Emma was not swayed by training, Sivan, a project manager for a cosmetics company, was after her manager pushed her to undergo training for certain AI tools. “I used to really have concerns and no desire to get trained up… But when I saw how easy and useful it was for me, I completely changed my mind.” Sivan now uses AI on a daily basis. “AI has replaced external writers for me,” she says. “I’ve therefore saved time and money for my company. It’s also provided me with advice for website creation, marketing guidance, wording for headlines, data for my presentations… It really helps me with my work.”

In addition to training, there are several initiatives that aim to make artificial intelligence more attractive to women – both for their personal and professional lives. Goligoski at Charter says, “Stephanie LeBlanc-Godfrey has a newsletter on LinkedIn addressing ways of using AI to improve the efficiency of parenting, [improving] the administrative side of modern family management.” She adds, “Another project called Women Defining AI focuses more on the development of Chat GPT rather than its use. The aim is to demystify the creation of these tools and to get more women supervising them.”

And what about future generations? It may be too early to tell, but McNeilly says the future could be a little more balanced. “For those of us adults who didn’t grow up with these tools, I think we’ll just see artificial intelligence as a useful tool,” he says. “However, kids are going to grow up with AI tutors and AI friends… For them, artificial intelligence will be a given. In the long term, this could help balance things out for women.”

Certain names have been modified.

Translated by Jamie Broadway

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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